A learning journal for my counselling course. In this learning journal I am going to explore the difficulties the helpee might have in verbalising concerns and prioritising them, so that I can better help them to identify and focus on their concerns.
The first issue that comes to mind when I think about this is the issue of trust. Many clients who seek counselling will have been let down and as a result might have very little trust in other people. While they have taken a brave step in seeking counselling, the next step of actually verbalising their concerns could be met by the barrier of lack of trust. Therefore, it is essential that I create a safe environment where trust can grow between myself and the client. While some clients might trust me as soon as they realise that I am there to listen and that I will keep things confidential, others will need time to establish the trust needed to verbalise their concerns. In these cases, trust has to be earned and I, as the counsellor, have to be willing to earn that trust. There are many ways I can do this, from creating a comfortable, friendly environment, to demonstrating the skills of active listening, empathic understanding, and congruence. Indeed, by actively using the three core conditions of empathy, genuineness, and unconditional positive regard, the foundations will be set for trust to develop. Using these core conditions is about investing in the therapeutic relationship, investing in the client, and subsequently creating a place where they are able to verbalise their concerns and prioritise them.
Moving beyond the initial building of trust is the fact that some people, especially those who have been traumatised or abused, can have difficulty identifying their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. They may have blocked them or denied them for so long that they are not in touch with their own issues and concerns. In such situations, it is important that I support the client to get in touch with their needs without taking over the agenda of the session. I can see how it would be easy to assume I know what the main concerns are and thus guide the client towards them. However, I know from my own personal counselling, that such assumptions cannot be made and are not in the best interests of the client. Indeed, sometimes the ‘surface concerns’ are merely masking much deeper issues that the client might be contending with. This is where I need to trust in the philosophy behind person-centred counselling, as well as trust in the client. Provided with the right conditions, the client will eventually be able to identify their concerns so that they can then verbalise and prioritise them.
I feel that as a counsellor it is important to remember the huge step a client is taking when they verbalise their concerns. By verbalising their concerns to someone else, the client is opening up a box that had previously been closed, and possibly even tightly locked. By recognising this, I can be empathic to conscious and unconscious resistance the client might be confronted with when it comes to identifying their concerns and verbalising them. My job as a counsellor is to ‘hold’ the client, figuratively, as they gain trust in me and take that brave step towards verbalising their concerns and what they wish to address in counselling.